Illustration by Leigh Douglas.

We are always interested in that which reminds us of ourselves.

Larry Shore, producer and co-director of the documentary “RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope,” said this is why Americans showed such concern and interest in South Africa in the 1960s.

“It reminded them of their own history,” Shore said. “It reminded them of their struggle [in the civil rights movement]. A big part of the film for us is to try and make those connections.”

“RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope” will be screened at UC Santa Cruz on Feb 13. The film documents the late Senator Robert Kennedy’s five-day visit to South Africa in 1966, during the worst years of the apartheid.

Now a professor of film and media studies in New York, Shore was born and raised in South Africa. He was 13 years old when Robert F. Kennedy came to his segregated country and delivered some of his most famous anti-apartheid speeches to South Africans across the country.

“I remember it very well because it was so unusual — quite an amazing thing — we’d never seen anything like that,” Shore said. “It was the first time someone really important from the outside world came to South Africa and gave you the feeling they were on your side. Even though I was 13 years old, I really felt it. It was a very powerful sense of feeling we were not alone.”

Apartheid in South Africa bore similarities to strife faced by black Americans during the U.S. civil rights movement. Senator Kennedy visited South Africa at a time in which, according to Shore, “hope was necessary.” Shore said hope is exactly what he gave, particularly in his most famous speech, “A Ripple of Hope.”

Not many Americans realize the importance of this crucial visit. This was a huge source of motivation behind the making of the documentary, which uses never-before-seen archival footage, and includes exclusive interviews with South Africans that remember Kennedy’s visit.

“When you are a filmmaker, you obviously want to look for stories that haven’t been told,” Shore said. “I thought it would make a really good film, an inspiring film — I was looking for a film that would make the connections between South Africa and the U.S.”

In a speech given at the University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966, Kennedy said, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

UCSC lecturer Ryan Coonerty, who is helping organize the screening of the film on campus, said this connection is what makes the documentary so necessary.

“It was an amazing moment in history when Robert Kennedy was able to bring international attention and pressure on the South African government’s policy of apartheid, and was also able to speak about the civil rights movement in the United States at the same time,” Coonerty said. “This documentary captures this historical turning point very well.”

Viewers of the documentary can start to understand the connection between the United States and South Africa, and also the way the United States relates to countries in general, which is a point Shore stresses.

“When you’re making a historical documentary, you always hope and work hard to make sure that it isn’t just a story about something in the past, but that it has relevance today,” Shore said. “In many ways, it talks about how we talk. How do we, as a United States, promote values we believe in — human rights, democracy, etc. — around the world without being arrogant?”

Shore said Kennedy achieved speaking to what America stood for without being overbearing or domineering.

Film director and producer Larry Shore said it still resonates today with his question, “How does the U.S. talk to other countries, particularly those that are not democratic?”

Shore’s ultimate goal for his documentary is for it to be used for educational purposes.

“I have an educational distributor, and I’m very much trying to get this film into high schools and colleges,” Shore said. “It’s being used already by many courses on human rights, on African study and on foreign policy.”

In his opinion, Shore said Kennedy’s efforts to remedy social upheavals in South Africa were mostly successful.

“[Kennedy] would be very delighted, very pleased and feel very grateful he had contributed to the end of apartheid,” Shore said. “The end of apartheid was really like a negotiated revolution.”


“RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope” will be screened on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in UCSC Social Sciences II, room 71.